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The Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) is unlikely to buy the Pakistan-made and Chinese-designed JF-17, a third generation jet fighter, even if Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pushes for it during his sojourn in Colombo between January 4 and 6, a leading Lankan defense expert told Express.

Reacting to a report by Anthony Davies in IHS Jane’s 360, dated December 29, saying that Sharif will press for its purchase, the Lankan expert who did not want to be identified said that two factors will prevent Colombo from going in for it: First, there is India’s opposition. And Second, there is the cost factor, with the fighters going at USD 35 million apiece. But the SLAF is eager to replace its aging Kfirs and MIG 27.

Official Indian sources denied any knowledge of Lanka’s intention to purchase the JF-17 from Pakistan or India’s counter offer to provide its Light Combat Aircraft “Tejas’. But the Lankan media has been talking about these for some time, briefed by none other than the Air Force Commander Air Marshal Gagan Bulathsinghala.

The Lankans are probably aware that the “Tejas” has a problem. While the JF-17 is a fully developed aircraft in operation since 2010, Tejas is still undergoing development following the discovery of some flaws by the Indian Air Force.

While Pakistan has to sell the JF-17 to justify the existence of a production facility, and may even offer credit, the Lankan defense expert quoted above wondered if Lanka will be able to afford the aircraft given the fact that it is in the doldrums financially with huge international debts to repay.

Additionally, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe may not approve of the SLAF’s plans to buy fighter jets, given his interest in giving the island nation a Blue Water navy to safeguard its coastline more effectively, and also to play a meaningful role in international maritime security as desired by the US.

Finally, given the current bonhomie between Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seen in the unscheduled meeting at Lahore recently, many  wonder if Sharif will ruffle India’s feathers now by pushing for the sale of the JF-17. (The New Indian Express)